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The Connecticut Department of Transportation's Governor's Highway Safety Program and public media producer WGBH have teamed up to launch "Game Over," a safe driving initiative that empowers kids to prevent distracted driving, with the help of a beloved animated PBS KIDS character, Ruff Ruffman.
At any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving. This first-of-its-kind project hopes to turn the tide on texting and driving.
Nationwide, more than 3,000 people died in 2013 in crashes involving a distracted driver, while more than half a million were injured. Over 1,300 people are injured every day on the nation's highways as a result of a distracted driving crash.
"We understand that the proliferation of mobile devices means that this will be a difficult habit for people to break, which is why we are advocating for our best, and most vocal allies -- our children -- to speak up," says Connecticut DOT Commissioner James P. Redeker. "Connecticut has been a national leader in the field of distracted driving prevention. This partnership with WGBH represents our state's continued commitment to finding innovative ways to connect with the public and educate them that this behavior presents a real danger to them and their families. The integration of the popular character Ruff Ruffman represents another way to change behavior by encouraging non-driving age children to tell their parents not to text and drive. This is a terrific complement to our existing distracted driving programming."
The State of Connecticut was the only state in the nation to receive a federal grant for this program.
The "Game Over" digital initiative provides resources to encourage kids to become better passengers and to play an active role in helping parents to keep their eyes on the road. The campaign's unusual approach tunes into the idea that kids are acutely aware of their parents' distraction, especially when they are driving.
"Anecdotally, kids have been successful in encouraging their parents to quit smoking, to wear seatbelts and to recycle. When kids become vocal advocates, parents may change their habits," explains Bill Shribman, WGBH Senior Executive Producer and the project's creator. "With the deployment of Ruff Ruffman, who continues to resonate with non-driving age children, and our suggestion of some gentle nagging, we can provide kids with a strategy to help parents keep their eyes on the road and to even be good co-pilots, in charge of the phone while their parents drive."
For "Game Over," WGBH's Children's Media has produced a rich set of complementary materials for children and adults featuring the popular animated character Ruff Ruffman. Ruff, a cartoon dog, is the host of Ruff Ruffman: Humble Media Genius, a PBS KIDS online media and technology series. It has generated 40 million video streams since its launch last year and won a Parent's Choice Gold Award.
The safe driving initiative on the Ruff Ruffman website features an animated video explaining the dangers of distracted driving (Ruff learns he can't play his driving game and be on the phone at the same time) and a catchy, original song, "Just Drive," which takes a humorous angle on this important topic and warns of the dangers of multitasking while driving. Families will also be encouraged to print and sign a Safe Driving Pledge and to display it in a prominent place in the home as a reminder not to text and drive. Other "Game Over" elements include a quiz from Ruff asking questions about driving and offering appropriate feedback; polls about technology use; a guide for parents to explain the video content; background information for parents about the hazards of distracted driving; and real letters from kids about their own families' distracted driving experiences.
 National Occupant Protection Use Survey, 2015
 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
To help get the conversation started, the Ruff Ruffman website has games and quizzes, polls about technology use, a guide for parents, and real letters from kids about their own families’ distracted driving experiences.
Take the pledge. For a family New Year’s resolution, print and sign your own “Safe Driving Pledge” as a reminder not to text and drive – and don’t forget to hang it on your fridge or in a place where it’ll serve as a constant reminder to always incorporate safe driving into your routine.